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Causes without Mechanisms: Experimental Regularities, Physical Laws, and Neuroscientific Explanation

Marcel Weber
Philosophy of Science
Vol. 75, No. 5, Proceedings of the 2006 Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science AssociationPart II: Symposia PapersEdited by Cristina Bicchieri and Jason Alexander (December 2008), pp. 995-1007
DOI: 10.1086/594541
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/594541
Page Count: 13
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Causes without Mechanisms: Experimental Regularities, Physical Laws, and Neuroscientific Explanation
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Abstract

This article examines the role of experimental generalizations and physical laws in neuroscientific explanations, using Hodgkin and Huxley’s electrophysiological model from 1952 as a test case. I show that the fact that the model was partly fitted to experimental data did not affect its explanatory status, nor did the false mechanistic assumptions made by Hodgkin and Huxley. The model satisfies two important criteria of explanatory status: it contains invariant generalizations and it is modular (both in James Woodward’s sense). Further, I argue that there is a sense in which the explanatory heteronomy thesis holds true for this case.

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